Here. Hear; closely resembles a friend picking up a seashell, placing it in your hand, and inviting you to listen. "Here. Hear;" she might say.
You might prefer to think of Here. Hear; as an act of emptying a pocket. I'll stop to take a look at what I've been gathering, then I'll open my palm as I show it to you. Either way, it's a practice of keeping in touch.
Here. Hear; is a cousin to the newsletter. I plan to send most emails with a small companion package through the postal service. While in conversation with each other, they'll arrive at different times. Of course, you can also opt out of receiving physical mail if you'd like.
Sign up here.
Thank you for signing up for my newsletter project Here. Hear; and for your patience as I navigate the beginning of this process.
The project most closely resembles a friend picking up a seashell, placing it in your hand, and inviting you to listen. "Here. Hear;" she might say. You might prefer to think of Here. Hear; as an act of emptying a pocket. I'll stop to take a look at what I've been gathering, then I'll open my palm as I show it to you. Either way, it's a practice of keeping in touch.
For the next three months, the newsletter will take the form of a monthly email and a companion envelope sent in the mail. If you feel compelled to respond to any of what I send your way, please do. I'll leave space open for the potential of correspondence, though it will never be required.
The project is sure to change over time but for now I'll move at a monthly pace. As we begin, the tone of these letters is that of direct eye contact and a gentle wave. In terms of what you do with the email, consider how you might hold it for a moment in the palm of your own hand or better yet rinse your face with it at the end of a day.
I'd like to start by sharing two pieces of writing that I've been carrying with me into this project. The first is a poem by Lorine Niedecker. The second is a paragraph from On Being Blue by William H. Gass. Both have been on my mind as I consider gestures of banality and wonder, of economy and friendship.
[You are my friend] by Lorine Niedecker
This poem was first published as part of a larger collection Neidecker wrote between 1960 and 1964.
You are my friend--
you bring me peaches
and the high bush cranberry
you water my worms
you patch my boot
with your mending kit
nothing in it
but my hand
On Being Blue by William H. Gass
Here, Gass employs an analogy to guide the reader through the various meanings of the color blue.
Furthermore, if among a perfect mélange of meanings there is one which has a more immediate appeal, as among the contents of a pocket one item is a peppermint, it will assume a center like the sun and require all others take their docile turn to go around.
To close, I'll share an observation with you.
My house overlooks an open field in Northeast Baltimore. In the early evenings, I often hear the roar of a dirt bike as a teenager passes by or the flutter of a clumsy sparrow's wings as one finds the seeds I've left on the windowsill. Lately, a young boy in a pale yellow uniform shirt frequents the field but doesn't make a sound. I watch as he walks towards a nearby lamp post at the edge of the field and sets his backpack down beside it. With an intense calm, he lowers his head, shoulders, and upper body then kicks his legs up against the metal post. He holds this position as long as he can before toppling over into the grass. I try to watch casually and attempt to hide my awe as he performs this afterschool routine.
Today, he returned with his red backpack and though I didn't catch a handstand, I did peer out as he very seriously marched the length of the field backwards then darted across it unprompted. I felt an urge to applaud him but instead held quiet reverence. Whether he's sincerely training for a sport or simply playing an imagined role of athlete, I'm not sure. But he moves through each exercise with a kind of lightness and calculation that I aspire to.
Be on the lookout for mail arriving sometime soon-ish.
A companion envelope has been sent your way and I certainly hope it reaches you. This project grows out of an accumulation of small gestures. Gathering images, copying prints, cutting them out, assembling into small stacks, and tucking them into addressed envelopes. Out of these tasks, a dance emerges. We witness a leap as the materials move from my hands to yours.
It seems to me that when an image takes on a physical form, the question of utility follows it around. Often, I find I am inundated with images but rarely amidst the scrolling or searching, do I ask myself–– what am I to do with this? Of course, paying attention to any subject is an act of doing however closely or quietly it takes place. But, I appreciate the way a printed image insists on its own presence. And, how in the presence of an image we are prompted to respond. We gaze, we furrow, we crumple, we set aside, we pile, we sigh, we toss, we forget, we uncover, we remember, we cut, we paste, we rearrange, we delight, we relate.
In the presence of your envelope, in the physical space that the ephemera creates, albeit just a little, perhaps you might find something to do with this ephemera or more importantly, a way to be in relation to it. You might interpret the pieces of paper as a prompt for writing, moving, or taking an action of some kind. Decide which surface you'll set them on and for how long. Foreground your own handwriting atop each image to remind yourself of something. Consider making a collage or tucking them away to happen upon later. Or, you might simply decide to let this ephemera drift away with the current of your days.
One of my favorite forms of gathering is when an unexpected encounter between two friends or acquaintances unfolds within the bounds of a city crosswalk. This impromptu gathering is both a challenge and a dance. A moment of brief eye contact transforms into a sequence of recognition, greeting, and inquiry. The gathering complicates the routine of crossing the street and can only remain in place as long as the blinking body appears on the traffic light. As soon as the orange palm flashes, participants must negotiate whose side of the street to return to if the conversation is to continue. It reminds me of the many liminal spaces that hold the possibility of communion.
A few weeks ago, I walked the Here. Hear; envelopes down my street to the mailbox on the corner. As I dropped envelope after envelope into the slot, I heard steps approaching. When I looked up, an older man was walking slowly with a letter in his hand. I finished my task, said hello, and after a few steps back towards my house, he called out to me, “I’m so glad this mailbox is here!” I agreed and as I walked away I imagined the mailbox taking on a different shape. In my mind, it was no longer a stoic blue box but more of a water fountain, a spring, or a well.
In this third email to you, I'd like to share another poem that I've been holding on to lately.
Where the Circles Overlap by Ada Limón
We beg and beg.
The thesis is still a river.
At the top of the mountain
is a murderous light, so strong
it’s like staring into an original
that brief kinship of hold
and hand, the space between
teeth right before they break
into an expansion, a heat.
We beg and beg.
When should we mourn?
We think time is always time.
And place is always place.
Bottlebrush trees attract
the nectar lovers and we
capture, capture, capture.
The thesis is still the wind.
The thesis has never been exile.
We have never been exiled.
We have been in the sun,
strong and between sleep,
no hot gates, no house decayed,
just the bottlebrush alive
on all sides with want.
In a recent interview, Limón elaborated on the title and ethos of her poem.
"The title comes from when you’re planting a tree and you’re looking for where the sun is in the right space, you can draw where the circles are, and they’ll tell you to plant where the circles overlap. It's about fostering yourself in the sun, in the right place, creating the right habitat. And the right habitat, is for us to begin with a sense of belonging, with a sense of ease, with a sense that even though we are desirous and even though we want all of these things, right now, being alive, being human is enough. That’s really hard."
After time with Limón's poem and her reflection, my mind drifts to the words of dancer and choreographer, Deborah Hay . In her text, my body, the buddhist , Hay structures her writing around the lessons she's learned from her body. In the first chapter, my body benefits in solitude, Hay describes her experience as she begins to stretch on the floor. She asks, "What if there is no space between where I am and what I need?" and later delights in the question "What if where I am is what I need?" Hay carries this prompt as she lays still, feels the various sensations in her body, and moves through her environment.
I read Limón and Hay's words in conversation with each other. They speak of the relentlessness of wanting and of dutiful inquiry. And yet, both artists describe returning to their surroundings to embrace both the difficulty and the balm of presence.
Soon I'll be sending out the third round of companion envelopes. In the meantime, I'd be curious to hear–– What has this practice of keeping in touch felt like for you?
As I've watched three months stretch into six, I've come to know the rhythm of choosing text and images, making prints, assembling envelopes, and drafting emails. I'm grateful for this process as it's allowed me to sift through my surroundings and spend time with the ephemera I've accumulated. I'd encourage any friend to get to know the things they've been gathering a little bit better.
Throughout the winter, I participated in a weekly working group to study the nervous system through the lens of Polyvagal Theory . When we feel a sense of connection to the people and places around us or to ourselves, we experience a ventral vagal state in our nervous system. One of the exercises my peers and I practiced was to identify a vivid memory when we felt calm, compassionate, or curious ie. safe and to utilize it as an anchor in the ventral vagal state. We practiced calling upon this memory of safety, with all of the images, feelings, and thoughts attached to it, and to notice the sensations in our body as we savored it. Then, in times of dysregulation, we practiced returning once again to this memory, however brief, to remind ourselves of its possibility. I might not feel safe right now but I have in the past and it's possible that I will in the near future. When I experience a ventral vagal state in my nervous system, my shoulders relax, breath comes easily, and there is always a sense of spaciousness.
One anchor that I carry is a composite of the many encounters I've had with a particular deer in my neighborhood. This deer's coat is mostly white and from afar resembles more of a calf. A neighbor first pointed him out to me and since then I've come to know him as a piebald deer. Piebald describes a genetic mutation in white tailed deer that results in this partially white coat.
Certain evenings I can look out my window to see this one deer across the field. Rarely is he alone but I'm unable to identify any of the other deer as individuals. Instead, the rest of them form a herd with an ambient presence in the neighborhood. But because I'm able to recognize the piebald deer, I'm aware of just how often we share space. The piebald deer has a silent presence but when I make out his color and form from afar, I'm comforted. I acknowledge my distant companion with wide eyes or a small gasp. I find that this greeting, or simply the memory of it, shifts my nervous system, if ever so slightly, towards a state of ease.
Earlier this year, I found a copy of Tove Jansson 's The Summer Book . Many know Jansson as the artist behind the beloved Moomin comic series but she's authored a few collections of short fiction as well. The Summer Book captures a season of vignettes of a young girl, Sophia, and her grandmother as they cohabitate on a small Swedish island. Their days drift between makeshift adventure and sage contemplation. Mostly they bicker but occasionally they share secrets. Below is a passage that I was quick to copy down.
But Grandmother sat in the magic forest and carved outlandish animals. She cut them from branches and driftwood and gave them paws and faces, but she only hinted at what they looked like and never made them too distinct. They retained their wooden souls, and the curve of their backs and legs had the enigmatic shape of growth itself and remained a part of the decaying forest. Sometimes she cut them directly out of a stump or the trunk of a tree. Her carvings became more and more numerous. They clung to trees or sat astride branches, they rested against the trunks or settled into the ground. With outstretched arms, they sank in the marsh, or they curled up quietly and slept by a root. Sometimes they were only a profile in the shadows, and sometimes they were two or three together, entwined in battle or in love. Grandmother worked only in old wood that had already found its form. That is, she saw and selected those pieces of wood that expressed what she wanted them to say.
One time she found a big white vertebra in the sand. It was too hard to work but could not have been made any prettier anyway, so she put it in the magic forest as it was. She found more bones, white or gray, all washed ashore by the sea.
"What is it you're doing?" Sophia asked.
"I'm playing," Grandmother said.
I want to share a final anecdote with you that has continued to ring in my ear. In March, I attended a conversation between writers, Hanif Abdurraqib and Jason Reynolds . Together they discussed the limitations and possibilities in their chosen forms, the essay and the novel, and they reflected on lineage, both literary and biological. They also spoke of the music that had provided them with shelter as young people and given them a place to return to as adults. At some point, Hanif mentioned his practice of listening and how it had evolved into a craft honed with the help of his father. He recalled that when listening to a record, his father never asked, What do you think? but instead posed the question, What do you hear?